Ok, so our title is a bit misleading: we know Washington D.C. is not a state. But, what’s happening there is significant and reflective of the frustrating challenges the reproductive rights movement has been facing all of 2012.
A bill that would make abortion after 20 weeks illegal in Washington D.C. has been causing controversy in the nation’s capital.
We have seen restrictive anti-abortion bills pop up all over the country. The ones that inspired the most pro-choice fervor tended to be physically invasive. In response, anti-choice lawmakers rolled their eyes at women not wanting to confront a “wand” (in reality an invasive vaginal probe) in order to get an abortion.
But, the bills that would ban abortion after 20 weeks, and there have been a few now being considered at the state level, have not been met with the same nationwide uproar. Perhaps that’s because anti-choice legislators are not banning abortion with these bills – in fact, at first glance, it appears that they are not doing much at all. Only about 1.5% of abortions even happen after 20 weeks. In comparison to some of the anti-choice, anti-abortion legislation out there, this almost looks like a gentle or reasonable infringement.
But, it’s not. Women who seek later-term abortions are not doing it because of flaky morality – they don’t just decide the pregnancy they are already 20 weeks into is just too much of a hassle. Instead, later-term abortions are usually tied to the health of the fetus or the mother. It is a medical decision that women and families should have the right to make themselves in conjunction with their healthcare provider.
Another reason women get “late-term” abortions? Because they had been prevented from getting one earlier. A Guttmacher study suggested that a way to decrease later-term abortions was not by making them illegal, but by making first-trimester abortions more accessible. That would suggest that states, like Utah, that have created absurdly long waiting periods, are passing legislation that will actually perpetuate later-term abortions. If a woman has trouble coming up with the money to pay for an abortion, the time off of work to travel to the sole clinic in a state or the time off of work to wait long waiting periods before an abortion, that woman is more likely to be forced into a later-term abortion.
The move to ban abortion after 20 weeks is clearly one that would be detrimental to the few women who are in that position. The point then, of this legislation, seems to be politicking. Anti-choice lawmakers are trying to ease us out of legalized abortion with waiting periods, mandatory dissemination of misleading information and chipping away at the weeks in which women can make these choices in consultation with their doctors.
It’s clear how little anti-choice lawmakers care about women’s voices. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a representative for D.C., was denied the opportunity to testify against this bill at a hearing. It feels so familiar to the climactic moment and frustrating moment when Nancy Pelosi asked “Where are the women?” at a hearing about the Obama administration’s contraception coverage mandate.
Those pushing this bill are shutting out women’s voices again – and women are those that will be most devastated if the bill passes. We not only need more women’s voices to speak out against this bill, we also need all legislators to acknowledge the bill’s only consequence: restricting access to the few women who desperately need later-term abortions.